The development of online platforms imposes the need for new European rules and solutions to limit the risks of their activities.
From shopping to sharing, Parliament wants a simple general principle: if something is illegal offline, it must be illegal online
The last 20 years have been marked by significant changes in the online world. New companies, new technologies, new ways of working, shopping, reserving a place to stay or ordering food and transport have appeared.
The e-commerce directive, which underpins the EU’s digital single market, was adopted in 2000, when platforms such as Amazon, Google and Booking.com were in their infancy and Facebook, Airbnb and Instagram did not even exist.
European legislation is catching up with the development of online technologies, which is why the EU is developing a new legal framework called the Digital Services Act. The aim is to set new requirements for online market participants to ensure a better and safer digital environment for EU consumers and companies.
The importance of online platforms
The emergence of major online platforms is one of the most significant changes in the digital world in the last 20 years. Search engines, social networks, online stores, app stores and price comparison websites are an integral part of modern life.
They bring a number of benefits to consumers, create a new market for services and open up new opportunities for companies and retailers. According to the European Commission, one million companies in the EU sell goods and services through online platforms and more than half of SMEs selling through them use them to reach customers in other countries.
Challenges related to online platforms
New opportunities also create new risks. Consumers in Europe are being attacked with offers for illegal goods, activities and content. Small businesses, on the other hand, have difficulty entering a market dominated by digital giants.
Connecting companies to consumers gives large platforms access to vast amounts of data and allows them to set standards in important areas of the digital economy. The European Union wants to take the initiative, create rules at European level and set standards for the rest of the world.
The approach of the European Parliament
On 20 October, Parliament set out its recommendations on key aspects of the future digital services legislation:
- MEPs want both European companies and external companies selling goods and services to European consumers to be covered by the legislation. In addition, the act should cover not only online platforms, but all digital services.
- Consumers need to be as safe when shopping online just as they are when shopping in a traditional store. What is illegal to sell on the shopping street must be illegal and online. Platforms should step up measures against traders offering counterfeit or dangerous products.
- Platforms need to develop measures to identify their business customers in order to check and stop suspicious companies selling dangerous products or spreading misinformation
- Users should be informed if a service uses artificial intelligence technologies, and they should have control and the right to opt out of it. Personalized advertising needs to be better regulated.
- Legislation should facilitate the entry of new companies and prevent large platforms from restricting access.
- The rules must include clear guidelines on the fight against illegal and harmful content online
Pending a proposal from the Commission
The European Commission proposed legislation on digital services on 15 December with the ambition to prepare Europe for the digital age.
Earlier, three parliamentary committees (on the internal market, on legal issues and on civil liberties) prepared reports with recommendations for the legislation. The reports were voted on by Parliament on 20 October.